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READING BETWEEN THE LINES: New Report Finds Half of High School Graduates Lack Reading Skills to Succeed in College

Rating
"The research reveals a very serious problem," said Richard L. Ferguson

Too many American high school students are graduating without the reading skills to succeed in college and the workforce, according to a new report by ACT. It also found that students who are college-ready in reading are also significantly more likely to be college-ready in English, math, and science. The report, Reading Between the Lines: What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading, calls for major changes in high school reading standards and instruction. It was released at a March 1 event on Capitol Hill cosponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

According to the report, only 51 percent-the lowest level in more than a decade-of 2005 ACT-tested high school graduates are ready for college-level reading. (Of the students tested by ACT from the Class of 2005, only 51 percent met the “College Readiness Benchmark for Reading,” which represents the level of achievement required for students to have a high probability of success (a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better) in such credit-bearing college courses as Psychology, U.S. History, and other first-year courses that are typically reading dependent.) Among low-income and minority students, the results were much worse, with only 21 percent of African Americans, 33 percent of Hispanics, and 33 percent of low-income students (students from families whose yearly income is below $30,000) deemed adequately prepared.

“The research reveals a very serious problem,” said Richard L. Ferguson, ACT’s chief executive officer. “Too few students are developing the level of reading skills they’ll need after high school.”

“This report confirms what the Alliance has been saying all along,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Literacy skills are fundamental to success in all academic subjects, including not just the humanities and social sciences but also mathematics, biology, and physics. Here in Washington, we’ve been hearing a lot about math and science education lately but this report should remind us that investing in math and science without literacy is like buying a flashlight without batteries.”

Even more troubling, students appear to actually lose momentum during high school. According to the report, more eighth and tenth graders are on track to being ready for college-level reading than are actually ready when they graduate from high school. A likely reason for the loss in momentum is that reading is “simply not taught much, if at all, during the high school years.” The report also found that not enough high school teachers are teaching the reading skills and strategies that students need to access complex reading texts.

On the other hand, students who do graduate with high-level reading skills are more likely to enroll in college in the fall following high school graduation, the report found. They are also more likely to earn higher grades in college social science courses, have higher first-year college grade point averages, and return to the same college for a second year.

The report makes a number of recommendations on how to increase the number of high school graduates who are ready for college-level reading. It stresses that substantial experience with complex reading materials in high school is the key. The report also calls for guidance for high school teachers on the kinds of materials that are most likely to increase students’ readiness for college-level reading and targeted interventions to help students who have fallen behind in their reading skills.

The complete report is available at http://www.act.org/path/policy/reports/reading.html.

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